“1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War”
Henry Tucker: Weeping, Sad and Lonely
B.R. Hanby: Darling Nelly Gray
Stephen Foster: Hard Times Come Again No More
Anonymous: Sweet Evelina – The Southern Soldier Boy/Rebel Raid – The Maiden in the Garden – The True Lover's Farewell
Traditional: Bright Sunny South – Camp Chase – Brother Green
Walter Kittredge: Tenting on the Old Camp Ground
George R. Poulton: Aura Lea
Alice Hawthorne: Listen to the Mocking Bird
J.H. McNaughton: The Faded Coat of Blue
Henry Bishop: Home, Sweet Home/Polly Put the Kettle On
Henry Clay Work: The Picture on the Wall
William H. Monk: Abide with Me
Robert Lowry: Shall We Gather at the River
Anonymous 4: Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, Bruce Molsky (fiddle, banjo, guitar and vocals)
Recorded at the Concert Hall, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey (June 2014) – 66’51
harmonia mundi HMU 807549 –
Hybrid Super-Audio Compact Disc with essays and translations in English, French and German
After nearly 30 years of international touring and almost two dozen recordings, this album, “1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War,” will mark the recorded end for Anonymous 4. It is an impressive and varied legacy to leave behind, one that is rightfully exceptional in the classical music recording industry. And what better way to end than with this unique project, a collection of songs that are hopeful, a look back to the (relatively) not-so-distant past? The result is an album of unique charm and convincingly authentic music making.
It is hard to imagine what it must have felt like to be living in 19th century America during the Civil War, the unfairness of war all too apparent in a country divided against itself. But as the title suggests, the hope (and relief) that must have been felt at the war's conclusion in 1865 is a beautiful and universal sentiment that connects these songs. From the Stephen Foster standard, “Hard Times Come Again No More,” to “Abide With Me,” there is a simplicity of melody and a sincerity of text. Favorites such as “Darling Nelly Gray” and “Aura Lee” are sung with the utmost delicacy, not to mention technical excellence.
And the Anonymous 4 sound like they could keep singing for another 30 years. Their voices have an irrepressible youthfulness to them, bright and direct. Intonation is always exacting, ends of phrases tidy and beautifully blended between the singers. The a cappella opening, “Weeping, Sad and Lonely,” is wistful, melancholy—the longing atmosphere tangible. Bruce Molsky, lends his versatility in a most expert way, blending effortlessly as the solo bass when necessary or providing a nimble banjo accompaniment. When he gets going on the fiddle though, or when captured solo on songs such as “Bright Sunny South,” it is a raucous contrast, fun and direct. The combination of A4 and Molsky is often varied in color, the former sweet and pure, the latter raw and base, yet they are an inspired combination. This may be most apparent in “The Picture on the Wall,” a charming tune, performed with an unaffected tenderness.
Arrangements are thoughtful and convincing, harmonies open, but varied. And the programming on the disc flows quite well. The opening to “Hard times” is a jolt of energy when following “Darling Nelly Gray.” Less familiar tunes such as “The Maiden in the Garden” combine with standards effortlessly.
A compelling collection, exquisitely sung, and beautifully recorded, “1865” is a joy even after repeated listenings. It is a recording that is at once refreshing but also familiar, both in style and character. More than that, it is lovingly presented in all facets (the booklet is gorgeous). “1865” is a fitting send off for Anonymous 4 and, unsurprisingly, is an album of exceptional skill, but more than that, thoughtfulness.
Matthew Richard Martinez